Modern Chinese Culture, Music, Tradition

Lang Lang and the Classical Music Market in China

We have been talking about languages and translation in our last blog posts. This time, we want to talk about a language that goes beyond border – music. Many of our readers may be fans of classical music – if that is you, you are also likely to know the name Lang Lang, a contemporary award-winning pianist who was born and raised in China.

Lang Lang at ”New York Rhapsody” presented by Live From Lincoln Center; Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center; New York, NY. Photograph: © 2016 Richard Termine PHOTO CREDIT – Richard Termine

With his phenomenal success that made his name in the international classical music world since the 1990s, Lang Lang has an interesting story. Not only does he have that typically strict Chinese upbringing; his achievement has inspired so many Chinese parents and children to learn about western classical music that it is now a bourgeoning market in China.

A tough upbringing

In multiple interviews, Lang Lang recalled a tough childhood as a single child in a family of two musicians, and growing up with tremendous pressure to succeed as one.  At the early age of four he had been performing as a prodigy in his hometown Shenyang. When he was nine, his father left his job to go to Beijing with him to find a conservatory. They left this mother to be the sole breadwinner to finance their quest, and they would only see each other for a few times a year.

His path to a renowned pianist was not entire smooth, however. In an interview with the Guardians, he related an emotional episode with his father when the music school threw him out. He was almost ready to give up and stop playing all together, when one of his classmates asked him to play one more time. That was when he realized it is his destiny to be a pianist, and got back on track. Eventually, all these hard work pays off. Lang Lang had won international awards since he was a teenager. With a super star fare, he rocked the classical music world. He became the first Chinese pianist to perform at the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic, followed by countless shows with top orchestras and musicians. Among other international events, he has performed in the White House, the Beijing Olympics, and Nobel Prize Concert. Now residing in New York, his latest project, with the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, is to introduce classical music to children from all backgrounds.

The new market of western and traditional classical music in China

While Lang Lang shines on the international stage, his story brought pride and sparked interests about classical music in China, especially parents who want to develop their young children’s musical talents. Once banned during the cultural revolution in the 60s and 70s, classical music is now a billion dollar market, from international orchestras looking for a Chinese audience, to musical instrument factories and music schools.

The annual musical instruments exhibition in Shanghai “Music China” showcases both western and Chinese traditional musical instruments from producers all over the world. Picture from Music China 2018

Meanwhile, how about Chinese traditional music which has an origin dating back to Zhou Dynasty (1046-256BC) and deeply rooted in Chinese culture? As the Chinese audience is cultivating a taste for Mozart and Beethoven, efforts are made by the Chinese government to modernize and promote traditional music not only in China, but internationally. One of the latest sensation is “Rediscover Chinese Music”, a traditional Chinese music concert with a modern theatrical settings. The show had won good review and just had a re-run in Washington earlier this year.

Trailer of “Rediscover Chinese Music” production, 2015

Music is certainly a language that cross border. As more Chinese children are learning western classical music,  and the west being more exposed to Chinese music, we will surely see more and more fusion of both eastern and western elements in the future world of harmony.

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